Checking Progress with Checklists

“I start my planning with the assessment,” says MENC member Cindy Brewer. “I decide what I want my students to know and be able to do, then I create the lesson around it.” She also relies on the national and state standards. Assessments give her feedback on her students’ strengths and weaknesses, and she can adjust her instruction accordingly.


Brewer likes to use checklists as reminders for herself and guidelines for her students. She also uses them to pretest singing, playing instruments, composing, and other skills.

Her checklist for performing on instruments for 1st graders helps her observe new skills. Once completed, she can see right away which skills need more work.

Checklist for Standard 2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
2a. Play a variety of pitched and unpitched instruments and use other sound sources, including body percussion
2b. Play simple melodies and accompaniments on pitched and unpitched instruments, demonstrating awareness of beat, tempo, dynamics, and melodic direction.
2c. Play appropriate pitched or unpitched instruments to accompany songs and games from diverse cultures.
2d. Echo short rhythm and melodic patterns.


Pitched Instrument

2a. Unpitched Instrument

2b. Simple Melody

2b. Accom-paniment Pitched

2b. Accom-paniment Unpitched

Play Rhythm Pattern Pitched
Play Rhythm Pattern Unpitched

2d. Echo Rhythm Pattern

2d. Echo Melodic Pattern

Her checklist for improvising helps students compose within specified guidelines.

Student Checklist for Improvising

Put a check mark on the line before the things you did correctly.

_____ I made up my own pattern.
_____ I used four beats in my pattern.
_____ I wrote my first pattern down.
_____ I wrote the ta (do), ti-ti (do-day), or rest under the notes.
_____ I put my name on the paper.

Later, Brewer uses the checklist as the basis for a more formal evaluation, usually with a rubric.

Checklist strengths

  • Quick look at student abilities
  • Informal
  • Can be done in stages
  • Great as a journal entry or portfolio
  • Flexible as individual or group grade

Checklist weaknesses

  • Doesn’t include specific criteria being assessed
  • Informal

“I also have a checklist of all our state standards that I can refer to throughout the year and check off the standards as I teach them,” says Brewer. “It gives me a quick look at what I have taught and what I still need to target.”

Cindy Brewer teaches at Boulder Bluff Elementary in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and gives in-service workshops for the Berkeley County School District.

–Linda C. Brown, January 22, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (